In less than two weeks, Major League Baseball’s 2016 season will begin and fans will flock to radio and television to witness their local team’s quest to become world champions. Speaking specifically for radio, the return of baseball is a blessing because it provides a boost to listening and energizes the talent, the imaging, and even the advertisers.
When you look at the success of sports stations across the country, those who have play by play associations usually perform well. Live sports has been and continues to be an attraction for sports fans and it’s proven to be a safe haven for clients too.
Advertisers who invest in play by play and receive quality treatment from the radio station’s sales force, usually return the following season. Between the imagery their brand gains from being associated with the local franchise, and reaching thousands of fans each day or night due to being featured in a live game broadcast, play by play provides a powerful return on investment.
It also gives sales teams access to things that money can’t buy. When special events are utilized properly, it can create emotional and memorable experiences for clients and those type of moments usually lead to a deeper relationship and future business.
Although play by play is a success from a listening standpoint, the costs for rights fees can often be high. This is why having an excellent sales team is critical. We can all agree that airing a local team’s games is good for ratings but if the company is going to lose millions of dollars to air the programming, is that really a wise business decision?
To help me get a better perspective on what goes into selling play by play sponsorships I wanted to call on someone who had experience selling sports play by play, as well as managing sales teams and creating game plans to help stations hit their revenue goals. I was fortunate enough to locate an individual who possesses a stellar reputation in the business, and who has handled multiple responsibilities on two different coasts.
Noel Wax, is the President and Founder of GroundSwell Group, a boutique cause marketing firm which works with corporate clients and nonprofits to help bridge the gap between the two. Prior to his new venture, Noel spent 17 years in radio, most of it with CBS, where he served as Vice President of Sports Sales, and Director of Sports Sales. He also spent the early years of his radio career working as an Account Executive for KNBR in San Francisco.
While at CBS, he grew from managing the company’s sales efforts with their sports properties in New York and San Francisco, to overseeing the entire sales operation for all of CBS’ play by play. At one point he was responsible for the company’s play by play sales for more than 25 of the nation’s leading sports brands. Some of those brands included the New York Yankees, Mets and Giants, the Chicago Bears and White Sox, the New England Patriots, and the Detroit Tigers, Lions and Red Wings.
If you’re involved in radio sales, working for a sports league or franchise, or if you’re in programming and looking to learn more about the sales end of the business, I think you’ll enjoy this. Noel knows how to win at play by play sales, and his free advice and information will help you be better prepared to create more wins for yourself and your company.
Constructing The Winning Formula For Play by Play by Noel Wax
It’s been quite a few years since I penned my last article of the value of play by play sports on radio. In those years the game has changed immensely. There is so much competition for the ear these days, successful broadcasters are forced to be incredibly creative in how they serve up the platform to ensure they don’t alienate their P1 audience while doing enough to lure the incredibly valuable “millennial” generation in.
For play by play audio to not only survive, but thrive, there needs to be a partnership between the league, the teams and the broadcast partner to ensure the product is worthy of the consumers increasingly scarce time and limited attention span.
In my days with CBS Radio Sports, I became somewhat of an “expert” in determining the value of broadcast. The challenge always came from who was going to pay for what and which assets we could obtain as a radio partner to pass through to the sponsors. There was a time when the average radio play by play package included media in the broadcast, a creative feature, and some game tickets. That transitioned to providing some kind of event or on site integration to allow fans to experience the brand, a digital element, and not just tickets, but an experience (throwing out the first pitch, pre game dugout visits, road trip with the team, etc).
The modern version of an effective sponsorship includes all of the above and more. Sellers are now competing with the most advanced technology, tracking and communication the world has ever seen. As a result, clients demand and require more. How can you integrate me in the content of the broadcast? How can you ensure product trial? How will you help me effectively measure results against the trackability the digital world offers? These are the questions being asked of sellers, and these are the things clients are getting from competing media outlets.
Yes, representing the Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox, Cowboys (and every other pro broadcast) will get you in many doors to have a conversation. The fans are still as rabid as ever, and clients want to find a way to attach their company and brand to their favorite team. But, when that person is investing 10’s and 100’s of thousands of dollars in a play by play sponsorship, they demand results. The more effectively you can connect the dots of every element of the sponsorship to an outcome the sponsor will achieve, the more successful your efforts (and renewals) will be.
With MLBAM’s stronghold on the digital space, and competition from satellite audio broadcasts, the winners in the traditional radio space will be the ones who most effectively create the programs that clients can surround the customer with. More often than not, that means a collaborative effort from the team and the broadcast partner.
More recently rights deals have gone the way of teams bringing the broadcast “in house”. This allows the teams to “control” all aspects of how the fan interacts with them. In these scenario’s the radio station still benefits from driving a large audience to its stations without the risk of losing big money from ineffective sales productivity.
There are still a number of pure rights deals where the radio station owns the broadcast and selling rights. This puts pressure on the radio partner to have a specialized sales leader and build or support a team of dedicated play by play sports sellers. With the right pieces in place this can be an effective model and help drive large top line revenues to the station. The winning combination seems to be a blend of the two where the radio partner has the majority of the selling rights while the team has enough inventory to take care of their core sponsors. This allows the team to control its relationship with its top sponsors, while allowing the experts (the radio station) to sell the remainder of the broadcast.
Taking all the technical mumbo jumbo out of the conversation, if you are a rights holder and have a strong sales team that can bring clients into the broadcast you have a very good chance to win. The key is to get the client on board for the entire season, thus giving you 7-8 months to treat them to an amazing experience, build a stronger relationship, and introduce them to the other assets your station has to offer.
During the season (hopefully the team plays well and wins a lot of games) they will experience some great live sports experiences, meet a few players, go on the field, visit the broadcast booth, take a trip with the team, be part of a great winning streak (and hopefully a record setting performance), plus hear their name associated with the brand they love.
The challenge I offer up to every one that represents a play by play broadcast this season…..come up with the idea, technology, feature, solution, that people will be talking about when you get together at the next rights holders meeting. Don’t get stuck thinking there is one way to do it. Be brilliant in your creativity with the way you deliver your client’s message to the fans. Baseball on the radio is a beautiful, historic broadcast that needs some inspiration and creativity to thrive into the future.